Gifts for Coworkers You Should Never Give

Businessman opening gifts at birthday lunch
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There are no formal business etiquette “rules” that require anyone to give a gift to a co-worker or boss, but many people do exchange gifts at work. It is important to remember that giving the wrong gift can convey a message that is too personal, romantic, or even offensive. You also run the risk of making the recipient feel uncomfortable if they do not offer you a gift in return or alienating co-workers if your gift is showy.

Deciding on the right gift to give can be difficult, but the following gifts are never right. Here are eight great tips to help you avoid getting the wrong gift.

"Adult" Items

Items that could be considered sexual in nature are inappropriate (and may even be illegal) in the workplace. Anything “adult” in nature should never be given in the workplace setting – even to the closest of co-workers. It not only includes the obvious like pornography and adult “toys,” but also includes artwork, books, and any image or rendering that depicts nudity or that may suggest a sexual act.

Gifts That Carry a Discriminating or Demeaning Message

Never give gifts that could be considered offensive to women, minorities, or any race, culture, groups, or individuals with disabilities—even if presented in the “spirit of fun.” It includes cards, gifts, artwork, caricatures, publications, and any other item that could be interpreted as stereotyping or discriminatory.

Politically Oriented and Religious Gifts

Unless someone has specifically asked for a particular political or religious item, book, or gift, do not try to guess on one. If you do honor a specific request, keep in mind that the item could still offend someone else in the office, so give it wrapped and in private.

Personal Care Products

Grooming items and sundries are generally too personal to give, especially when given to a member of the opposite sex. It includes body and skin care products, perfumes, toothbrushes, hairbrushes, and shaving sundries. That scented hand lotion you love might seem like a good idea, but when given to a person with allergies or asthma you are giving a gift that cannot be used.

Intimate Clothing

All undergarments, and in most cases, any articles of clothing except for hats, scarves, or gloves are not good gifts to give co-workers or your boss. A corporate T-shirt is acceptable but may seem a bit on the “cheap” side.

Romantic Jewelry

If you give jewelry, stick to small, casual items and give them only to members of the same sex unless the gift is being given by a group.

The key to remember when giving jewelry is that some items may be interpreted as a romantic gesture, especially if the jewelry is expensive. The best jewelry items to give are inexpensive or moderately priced watches (including pocket watches) or simple, trendy bracelets or pins. Pearls, diamonds, and gemstones are generally not a good idea if the gift is intended as a casual gesture.


Do not give roses. It is better to give poinsettias, “lucky” bamboo, or other plants instead of flowers. They last longer and cannot be interpreted as a romantic gesture.

Casual flowers like daisies, wildflowers, or bulbs the turn into blooms are also fine. (Hint: No one really likes a chia pet.)


Never give your boss or a co-worker cash (but gift cards are acceptable). Cash should only be given by the company or employer when it is given as a taxable bonus, not as a personal gift.


Giving no gift at all can be better than giving the wrong gift. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself if the gift is something you would let a child see (even if they would not enjoy the gift itself). If you would not let a child see the gift, it may not be appropriate to give to someone at work.